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LCMS, ELCA meet, discuss joint future

Top leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) recently discussed in-depth the theological implications of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly decisions on human sexuality. The church leaders met in Chicago in mid-April as the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation (CLC), which convenes twice a year.

The ELCA assembly directed that policy documents be revised to make it possible for eligible Lutherans in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders. The assembly directed that revised policies recognize the convictions of those who believe the ELCA should not allow such service.

The leaders began their discussion by reviewing “Theological Implications of the 2009 ELCA Decisions,” a 10-page document prepared by a task force appointed by LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick, who indicated that the document was intended for use by LCMS pastors and members in their own study and in dialogue with ELCA members. Key provisions of the document include:

* The LCMS believes and teaches “that same-gendered sexual activity — in every situation — violates the will of our Creator and must be recognized as sin.” The LCMS affirms the biblical view of marriage as a lifelong union of a man and a woman, and that unmarried men and women are to “live in sexual chastity and celibacy.”

* There is “legitimate concern” over the ways people who are gay or lesbian have been “excluded and even vilified by Christians.”

* The LCMS does not believe that the ELCA’s decisions on sexuality should necessarily or summarily end cooperative work in human care since this work is “based on the sharing of a common goal, not doctrinal unity.” The LCMS document continued, “However, we hope and expect that the leadership of such entities will respect the theological position of the Synod (including its position on same-gender sexual activity) and avoid any policies or decisions which would require us to cease our support and involvement in their activities.”

* The LCMS believes that disagreements about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior “impact the Gospel itself,” since the Gospel is “the heart, center, and ultimate message of the Bible,” and that “a church body’s acceptance of homosexual activity promotes a false security about behavior and conduct which God has forbidden and from which He longs to redeem us.”

* A prayer that the ELCA would reconsider its actions.

Kieschnick explained that the LCMS document was intended to help members “walk through this, while not compromising our own point of view.”

“We received it in the understanding that you were speaking to your own church, but also to us,” said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop. “We also hope that you understand, and we understand, that our actions put stress on relationships, but not stress to the point that we believe that they should sever the relationships rather than call us to deeper conversation.”

Differences of opinion are addressed

Marcus R. Kunz, executive for discernment of contextual and theological issues, ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop, stressed that it is not true “as some are claiming, that the ELCA has abandoned or ignored the authority of scripture. Rather, we seek to be faithful to the evangelical purpose that God intends with the scriptures.” Kunz requested “respectfully that the LCMS not silently allow or tacitly encourage misrepresentations of the ELCA’s commitment to the evangelical use of the scriptures, a misrepresentation that subverts the evangelical witness we share.”

Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, told Kunz that the LCMS did not say in its paper that the ELCA has “abandoned” scripture as a source of authority, but it does assert that the two churches “have fundamentally different understandings of the nature of scripture’s authority, not just differing opinions about how to interpret certain passages of scripture.”

“This is not a new issue,” he added, citing previous documents and discussions centering on the question of the authority of scripture and its relationship to scripture’s central message of the Gospel.

While he does not see much immediate change in the ELCA-LCMS relationship as a result of the ELCA sexuality decisions, Synod Secretary Dr. Raymond L. Hartwig said the decisions create “a special challenge” because the ELCA actions were “imposed” on the LCMS.

Hartwig said a key question being asked in the LCMS is, “Do cooperative efforts imply doctrinal unity with the ELCA?”

“I think we have a special challenge with this particular issue that is different than we’ve faced before,” he added.

Kieschnick added that the LCMS convention in July will likely address the ELCA sexuality decisions because they are a significant topic of discussion in the church.

Hanson noted that leaders of both churches have come a long way in the past nine years of CLC discussions. “I think we have deep respect for one another,” he said. “We have deep commitment to the Gospel we proclaim through one another’s voices, and we have a deep resolve to respond to the hurts of the world together. … We will pray for your convention, and pray for our shared work together in the world.”

This is an excerpt of an article prepared by John Brooks and Melissa Ramirez Cooper of the ELCA News Service, and approved by LCMS and ELCA leaders who participated in the CLC meeting.

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